Review by Jame Son
"Stay in the dark...Or else..."
What was the first thing that I noticed about this game? The title, of course. I mean come on, it's one of the coolest sounding game names that I have ever heard! And I'm not even sure what it means! But you can't judge a book (or in this case, videogame) by its cover, so I was eager to play it and see if it lived up to the awesome title that it garnered. I wasted no time in picking it up for the Cube as soon as it came out (I could have gotten the PS2 version with the extra level, but I'm a sucker for the GC controller and now I'll probably never see the exclusive mission). And what did I think of it, you wonder. Well...it's pretty sweet. Not great, but pre-tty sweet.
GAMEPLAY - 7/10
Don't even try and compare this game to Metal Gear Solid unless you want a beatdown. To get it out of the way quickly, these two games are absolutely nothing alike. Other than the fact that they both contain and rely heavily on the aspect of stealth, SC and MGS are just about as different as is possible. Metal Gear has a more action movie/videogame feel to it, with the long-winded cutscenes and implausible story and respawning guards and humongoid weapons. Splinter Cell attempts to be more realistic, and for the most part, it works successfully.
As super-super-super secret agent Sam Fisher (his occupation is a Splinter Cell, since apparently he is as invisible as a sliver of glass or something), your mission is to save the world from foreign terrorists. Didn't see that coming, did you? But here's the catch: if you move hastily, your government employed ass is as good as toast. Missions consist of sneaking, crouching, and all-out living in the darkness. In the course of infiltrating several embassies, office buildings, etc., Fisher must make use of the handy ''visibility meter'' to make sure he can't be seen. As a character says early in the game, ''if it's far to the right, you're lit up like a Dutch brothel. To the left, you're a ghost's shadow.'' Rest assured your eyes will be glued to this meter for most of the game to make sure you're safe. And say goodbye to the nearsighted baddies of MGS; these punks will see you a mile off if you're in the light. Oh, and you have to move slowly as well. Apparently the guards in this game can not only see a mouse, but they can hear it fart.
While Sam doesn't carry around an inexplicable amount of items like Solid Snake, he still has a respectable inventory to help him get the job done. Silenced pistols, grenades, night-vision and thermal goggles (one of the coolest game elements that can be toggled on and off easily with the Z button so you can either see in the dark or notice colorful heated objects like the Predator), optic cables to see under doors, you name it. You also have a lockpick, which gives way to an awesome minigame of sorts, picking locks by slowly turning the control stick and waiting for the lock to click into place. Very cool.
The controls are fine and Fisher responds very well, not to mention the camera is fully controllable, making it very simple to look anywhere you want. So why a 7 instead of the sought after 10? A few reasons: insane trial-and-error difficulty at times, and f**ked up game mechanics that seem to contradict themselves at certain points. Like for instance...if bodies of guards that you kill or knock out aren't hidden in the dark, then an alarm goes off (you usually have three alarms before you fail the mission). But it seems like sometimes bodies are found even if they are perfectly hidden in blackness. And also, what the hell's up with the guards' hearing? On countless occasions it's all but required to sneak up behind a guard and chokehold him. But they always seem to hear you and turn around to fill your face full of bullets, regardless of how slow you are moving. Grrr...
And even in some parts where everything is fair, the game just gets way too hard at times. It may seem like you have lots of freedom, but not really. There is usually one way to succeed, and one way only. Who knows how long it will take for the player to figure it out. Me? Hell, I must have done one section of the last mission a dozen times before I realized what I had to do. Annoying and stupid, not to mention it puts a serious restriction on replay value, you know?
GRAPHICS/SOUND - 10/10
OKay, listen folks. I have played the Xbox version a little, and don't even try and kid yourselves. I love Gamecube as much as all of you, but these graphics don't even come close to matching up with Microsoft's juggurnaut black behemoth. The shadows and lighting are greatly reduced, and the between level movies look suppressed and weird. But that's not to say the graphics blow billy goats, so don't get upset. This is still one of the best-looking games on the Cube, with the obvious exception of Metroid Prime and LOZ: Wind Waker (Resident Evil? Hmmm, probably that one, too). They may be toned down, but lighting and shadow effects are still astounding (they better be, the whole game is based around being in the dark!). Sam Fisher and pals move very smoothly, but obviously Fisher himself gets special treatment with all the special moves he can do (including an awesome split-jump where you can hide above guards in skinny corridors, a move that unfortunately is hardly ever needed). Environments look great and well-varied, though there are certain points, like in the CIA headquarters for instance, where it's a bit confusing since all hallways look alike. Other than that, very very good.
Sound? Score one for the home team, holmes! Awesome sound effects, like footsteps on different surfaces and the sound of a thunderstorm in one level. Terrific downplayed background music that fills you with tension (Presidential Palace is my personal favorite musical choice), and then fear when it picks up after you get spotted. And bitchin' voice acting by actor Michael Ironside, who gives life to Sam Fisher. I still think Snake sounds a bit cooler, but Ironside makes Sam sound more like an everyman instead of a gruff loner who smokes twenty packs a day. Ha!
STORY - 8/10
Nothing special, but after playing MGS2, nothing special is just what I needed. No melodramatic plot twists. No absurd character descriptions. No ''it turned out to be a computer-controlled training simulation all along!'' crap. Just a bad mofo dressed all in black sneaking around, kicking evil ass with stealth, and preventing global terrorization. Good job, kid! It doesn't contain any surprises, but it never makes you shake your head and think ''this stupid story is ruining the game'', either.
OVERALL - 8/10
Should you buy it? Hmm, probably. If you're a rental kind of person, that might suffice. You should be able to complete it in the ballpark of eight-to-ten hours. It's a nice addition to the collection, though, and well worth the time spent playing it. A word of warning first: if you get impatient easily, this game ain't for you. You'll die a lot, and everytime you die you will have to start over at the last (fairly frequent) checkpoint and have to move just as slowly as you did before. I'm a pretty relaxed guy and even my controller was almost thrown angrily against the TV set. For spy aficionados only, but come on: isn't that all of us?
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/25/03, Updated 04/25/03
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